When done right, it can be a deceptively potent thing, like the best of Cheap Trick, or Jellyfish’s Spilt Milk. When it’s done wrong, there’s nothing worthwhile to be found. Trust me. I’ve heard some really awful bands who thought they were “pop pioneers for the modern age,” but sounded like brakes with no meat on the pads. Somewhere in between lay the Smithereens.
I can hear it now: “Little harsh there? They gave us ‘A Girl Like You’ and ‘Blood and Roses’… ” No, I cannot take anything away from those very catchy, very good tunes, but even though I enjoy their music, I can’t deny the merciless repetition therein. The prime illustration of this is the Green Thoughts album. There is probably not a hookier power pop album in existence, but you have to shut down the census bureau while listening to it. “House We Used to Live In” constantly repeats its title, and so does “Only A Memory.” “The World We Know” also invites copious counting fits. God help you if you use these songs in a drinking game — you’ll die of alcohol poisoning. In spite of my criticism, I like those tunes. What they do not reflect in lyrical sophistication, they make up in pure guitar-jangle exuberance.
A couple of songs break through and slap you around in a good way — “If the Sun Doesn’t Shine” manages to co-opt a Beach Boys vibe, while “Spellbound” casts some shadows in 3/4 time. For myself, “Drown In My Own Tears” (download) is the standout on the disc, kicking off Side Two in a bold, positive way. It’s a ‘crank it up’ sort of tune, in spite of its loser-anthem subject matter. Singer Pat DiNizio has a pinch in his voice that makes it very distinct, but not too nasal. Where some vocalists have interchangeable tics and timbre, rendering them easily replaceable, DiNizio is part and parcel the voice of the Smithereens. Guitarist Jim Babjak gets a nice stab riff going in the instrumental bridge but, through the body of the song, maintains a classic rock momentum, moving it along without being conspicuously flashy. That could probably be said of all the participants here, including Mike Mesaros on bass and Dennis Diken on drums. No one shows off to the detriment of the music.
But hindsight can do funny things to a listener. If you’re a stickler for tempo, keys and progressions, you’ll find “Drown in My Own Tears” not too dissimilar to “Only a Memory” and “The World We Know,” only freed up from those previously mentioned title repetitions. Then again, if you get bogged down by these things, you probably never were a Smithereens fan to begin with. Like the ’60s pop they emulated, and the singles those artists put out, their sound is consistent through the entirety of their work; they never hid it nor turned from it. Their most recent offering, Meet The Smithereens, is an album-length tribute to the granddads of ’60s pop, the Beatles. So, the caveats are all out there. My advice is, in this case, not to over analyze it and just enjoy…
…Which, essentially, is what the power pop is all about, isn’t it?